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Tips from Krashen on why the disruption to traditional learning methods are a true benefit

Why should we be interested in Stephen Krashen’s ideas? For those of you who haven’t heard of him, Krashen is a leading linguist and educational researcher. He’s a big name in the world of second language acquisition and has written a number of very well-received academic books leading to a number of his approaches, theories, and ideas being used by teachers around the world; such as the Natural Approach, the Affective Filter and many more.

For Stephen Krashen, the disruption to traditional education during Covid-19 might just uncover some surprising benefits. In a recent interview, Krashen discussed how teachers can take advantage of the current situation as an opportunity to teach language in a different and effective manner.

 

Less traditional teaching may be a good thing

Once you remove the more traditional methods of language education, i.e. practicing memorised rules of grammar until they become automatic, a space opens up and allows teachers and students to be more experimental.

Remote teaching requires us to reconsider what a ‘normal’ lesson looks like and if you’ve been teaching for a few years or even decades, this might create some anxiety among teachers. Krashen suggests that this anxiety should be re-packaged into motivation and excitement – upset the status quo! Krashen’s basic explanation of second language acquisition is that “we do not acquire language by study, or by speaking or writing. We acquire in only one way: by understanding what we hear or read. What we callComprehensible Input (CI).’ The ability to produce language is the result of getting the right kind of input.”

But what Is CI? According to Stephen Krashen’s theory of language acquisition, comprehensible input is language that can be understood by listeners even if they don’t fully comprehend all of the vocabulary and grammar in use. Input is essential to acquisition, as it informs students’ subconscious understanding of a language. As Krashen puts it, “we [acquire language] when we understand what people tell us, and understand what we read.”

So, a clear message from Krashen – provide your students with more listening and reading activities to really build up that all-important CI. This can easily be achieved through remote learning, here are some tips to provide input rich content into your lessons:

 

  • Utilise your best resource – you!

Now, I know that this goes against what is often said in teacher development – we’re often told to ‘cut down TTT!’. However, this is not ‘teacher talking time’ it’s an authentic listening activity. All you need to do is explain to your student that you are going to speak about XX and explain the task you’d like them to complete. This could be a simple activity like – listen, make notes, ask me 5 questions or listen, and note down all the adjectives you hear, etc. Just remember that you’re not being interviewed for your biography! This is a listening skills activity, you should not be talking and rambling away with no clear task or objective.

The above works at every level but is even more beneficial at lower levels, studies show that students learn more effectively by listening to chunks of language from their teachers than from an audio; presumably, this is down to the personalised nature of the content. Krashen argues that building listening skills is absolutely key as it creates a path to reading, which is vital input for language acquisition.

 

  • Use authentic material

Once you know what interests your student has, find related content to use in your lessons for listening and reading activities. It’s obvious that people will focus more and take in more if a subject is of particular interest to them. It’s also a good idea to find content relating to your student’s industry in order to make the input really meaningful. There is a misconception among many teachers that authentic material can only be used once your students reach the heady heights of B2 and above. This is not true. Authentic material can be used at any level, you just need to remember the golden rule: grade the task, not the content!

 

  • Encourage students to read for pleasure 

“Self-selected pleasure reading is the source of most of our vocabulary, grammar, spelling, and the ability to write with an acceptable writing style,” notes Krashen. Studies show that those who read more know more about pretty much any subject you can think of. So, an easy win for any language teacher is to get their students reading for pleasure. The operative word here is ‘pleasure’ this means that the content needs to be of interest to the student but also pitched at just the right level. If it’s too easy, the acquired input will be minimal and if it’s too hard, students will lose confidence and interest and soon give up, creating a negative feeling with regard to ‘reading for pleasure’. This is where teachers need to use their knowledge of their language to select material that is just what the student needs. If you take more time in selecting material, the activity will be more effective.

 

When it comes to language acquisition, fiction is the most beneficial form of input. Fiction has a wide range of vocabulary and can educate students about history, science, geography and more—and can be more enjoyable than academic texts. 

As an example, Krashen explained that he had a 93-year old cousin who was planning to learn about law by reading academic books from the library, Krashen instead recommended the novels of John Grisham. They offer insight into the world of law, use relevant vocabulary, and are more pleasurable reads. Krashen reports that his cousin is doing just that, learning a great deal about the world of law, and loving it!

Follow Stephen Krashen on Twitter @skrashen. Many of his publications are available for free download at sdkrashen.com

 

Following government guidance, Professional Language Solutions and our teachers are now working virtually, providing online lessons for our business clients. If you want to learn a language online then take a look at our courses: https://www.langsols.com/index.php/e-products/online-classes-for-the-public.html

 

References:

https://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/article/comprehensible-input

https://www.languagemagazine.com/2020/05/08/stephen-krashens-seven-tips-for-teaching-language-during-covid-19/

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